How can you establish a narrative, especially in the confines of the REF template? Published author and Consultant Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund, Chris Simms, shares some advice…
1. Find your hook
With any kind of writing, it never hurts to picture your reader. That REF judging panel – which includes lay people – will be working their way through a pile of case studies. So it’s important to interest them as soon as you possibly can. Aim for a ‘rubbing of hands’, not a ‘shrugging of shoulders’, as they read your opening line.
To do that, consider the aspect of your research most likely to hook their attention. What was the issue, problem, dilemma or conundrum that first roused your curiosity to conduct the research? Chances are, that will also be interesting for your reader – so consider making it your hook.
2. Establish a hierarchy
Good research often leads to an array of impacts – economic, cultural or environmental (to name just three of the ten types identified here). But taking a blunderbuss approach to describing them is likely to result in a loosely connected series of statements.
To establish narrative flow, you’re better off taking a sniper’s approach: zoom in on the impact your audience is most likely to be impressed by. If it can relate to helping actual humans, all the better (people love stories about people). Once you’ve framed your research in this manner, you can gradually zoom back out to include all the other wonderful ways you created impact.
3. Hone your writing
The cautionary tone that characterises many research papers isn’t appropriate for your case study. You’re seeking to persuade and convince – so the language needs to be assertive and confident. Don’t be afraid to categorically state that your research “led to”, “resulted in” and was “cited by”. Select words that carry energy. Instead of merely highlighting, could your research have raised, stimulated, challenged, stretched, triggered or provoked?
Lastly, stories have a sense of momentum. The reader feels they’re being carried towards a resolution. Linking words and phrases (such as ‘Furthermore…’, ‘Following this…’ or ‘Consequently…’) can help build this feeling of forward movement.
A novelist by trade, Chris Simms was the Royal Literary Fund’s first ever Writing Fellow at The University of Manchester. He now helps undergraduates, postgraduates and staff in various universities to improve the quality of their writing through workshops and one-to-one tutorials. That includes regularly working with universities to edit REF impact case studies. To find out more, visit his profile on the Royal Literary Fund’s web site: https://rlfconsultants.com/consultants/chris-simms/